North Queensland Cowboys will be aiming to preserve their spot in the top eight when they play host to resident battlers the Newcastle Knights in NRL Round 8 action on Saturday.
With three of their four spine players still injured, the Cowboys will welcome a return home to Townsville and a clash with the last-placed Knights as they attempt to stay inside the top eight for another week.
Injuries to Johnathan Thurston, Lachlan Coote and Jake Granville - along with the loss of Matt Scott for the season - have crippled the Cowboys in recent weeks, while they haven’t played well at home, winning just two games and being pipped by sides outside the eight, including the Sea Eagles and Tigers.
But they should have some confidence after almost running down competition leaders the Dragons last week without their four star players.
John Asiata - a 104kg forward - was superb in the halves alongside Michael Morgan, creating two try assists, and Cowboys fans will be hoping for a similar impact again this week.
Antonio Winterstein also returns on the wing, which should bolster both the Cowboys’ attack and defence.
Meanwhile, the Knights continue to put in brave performances, but they just lack the class and brilliance to register regular wins.
Again, Newcastle were right in the game last week against the Roosters, just a converted try behind with 17 minutes remaining. But the Roosters showed their class, ran in two late tries and ultimately came away with what looks like a comfortable 18-point victory.
But the Knights should be buoyed by their performances so far this season, and given the Cowboys’ struggles at home and horror injury toll, that should serve as motivation to play well once again.
However it’s tough to see the Knights winning this one in Townsville. Newcastle’s run of close losses suggests that they won’t be easy-beats, but the Cowboys should have enough firepower to claim the points.
- Last four meetings split at two wins apiece
- Cowboys won their last clash 46-16 in Townsville
- Two of last three encounters have been decided by two points
Antonio Winterstein replaces Gideon Gela-Mosby on the wing for North Queensland, while Anthony Tupou comes in for Joe Wardle for the Knights.
Cowboys: 1. Kalyn Ponga 2. Kyle Feldt 3. Justin O’Neill 4. Kane Linnett 5. Antonio Winterstein 6. John Asiata 7. Michael Morgan 8. Patrick Kaufusi 9. Blake Leary 10. Scott Bolton 11. Gavin Cooper 12. Coen Hess 13. Jason Taumalolo 14. Ben Hampton 15. Ethan Lowe 16. Ben Spina 17. Corey Jensen 18. Sam Hoare 19. Ray Thompson 20. Javid Bowen 21. Braeden Uele
Knights: 1. Brendan Elliott 2. Ken Sio 3. Dane Gagai 4. Peter Mata’utia 5. Nathan Ross 6. Brock Lamb 7. Trent Hodkinson 8. Daniel Saifiti 9. Danny Levi 10. Josh Starling 11. Sione Mata’utia 12. Sam Stone 13. Mitchell Barnett 14. Luke Yates 15. Anthony Tupou 16. Jack Stockwell 17. Jacob Saifiti 18. Jaelen Feeney 19. Jacob Gagan 20. Josh King 21. Lachlan Fitzgibbon